Gov. Roy Cooper on Tuesday announced that a boost in supply means all frontline essential workers in Group 3 can sign up for their COVID-19 vaccinations as early as Wednesday -- a full week before the originally scheduled start date of March 10.
Group 3 includes first responders and emergency personnel such as police and firefighters, people who work in-person in manufacturing, food and agriculture, grocery stores, government workers and others.
"Our essential frontline workers have remained on the job throughout this pandemic and I am grateful for their work," Cooper said.
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The governor also announced a target date of March 24 for select members of Group 4, including adults 16-64 with existing health conditions that make them high risk for severe cases of COVID-19.
Group 4 includes anyone 16-64 years old with one or more high-risk medical conditions for severe disease from COVID-19, people living in close group settings and essential workers who have not yet been vaccinated.
"The third vaccine and improving vaccine supply will help us get more people vaccinated more quickly. But as we've said before - we still don't have enough vaccines.," he said. "You may have to wait for an appointment even if today's action means you are eligible to get vaccinated."
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The state clarified that some vaccine providers may not be ready to open to frontline essential workers on March 3 if they are still experiencing high demand for vaccines in Groups 1, 2, and 3.
In a previous interview with ABC11, Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen estimated that North Carolina could handle up to 350,000 first doses administered per week.
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As recently as two weeks ago, the state had only been giving out an estimated 160,000.
The state announced Monday that it is expecting to get 80,000 doses of the recently-approved Johnson & Johnson vaccine this week.
Cohen said on Tuesday that, next week, the state is expecting zero doses of that vaccine, but shipments are said to pick back up after that.
The first vaccinations for Group 3 in North Carolina, which were limited to teachers, educators and school staff, began Feb. 22.
Tuesday's announcement is a rather remarkable development considering the slow start of North Carolina's vaccination campaign, which started in December. Both state and federal officials said there wasn't enough supply to satisfy the insatiable demand for the vaccine.
"As we continue to move in the right direction, we know progress is fragile. COVID variants are present and vaccines aren't widely available yet," Cooper said. "We must continue to use good judgment. If we recommit to keeping ourselves and each other safe, we can get to the other side."